Chasing Cassandra

Page 12

“Oh,” she said, crestfallen. “I’m sorry to hear that. I … I’ve so enjoyed your company.”

“As I’ve enjoyed yours,” Mr. Severin replied. But the blue-green eyes now held a chill of wariness. Why had he suddenly become guarded?

Annoyed and a bit hurt, Cassandra curtsied to him. “Well … good-bye.”

An abbreviated nod was the only reply.

“I’ll walk you to the servants’ stairs,” Devon told Cassandra, and she went with him willingly.

As soon as they had left the kitchen, Cassandra asked in a low voice, “Is Mr. Severin always so mercurial? He was perfectly charming, and then his mood turned sour for no reason.”

Devon stopped in the hallway and turned her to face him. “Don’t try to understand Tom Severin. You’ll never come up with the right answer, because there isn’t one.”

“Yes, but … we were getting on so well, and … I liked him so much.”

“Only because he wanted you to. He’s a master at manipulation.”

“I see.” Her shoulders slumped as disappointment settled over her. “That must be why he told me the story about his father.”

“What story?”

“About the day his father left, when he was a boy.” As she saw Devon’s eyes widen, she asked, “He hasn’t told you that one?”

Looking perturbed, Devon shook his head. “He never speaks of his father. I assumed he’d passed away.”

“No, he—” Cassandra stopped. “I don’t think I should repeat a personal confidence.”

Now Devon wore a troubled frown. “Sweetheart … Severin isn’t like any other man you’ll ever meet. He’s brilliant, unprincipled, and ruthless by nature. I can’t think of a single man in England, not even Winterborne, who’s positioned so exactly at the center of forces that are changing life as we know it. Someday he may be mentioned in history books. But the give-and-take of marriage … the awareness of another person’s needs … those things aren’t in his capacity. Men who make history rarely make good husbands.” He paused before asking gently, “Do you understand?”

Cassandra nodded, feeling a rush of affection for him. From the moment Devon had arrived at Eversby Priory, he had been kind and caring, the way she and Pandora had always wished their brother, Theo, would have been. “I understand,” she said. “And I trust your judgment.”

He smiled at her. “Thank you. Now, hurry upstairs before you’re caught … and put Tom Severin out of your mind.”

LATER THAT NIGHT, after the cold buffet supper, and music and games in the parlor, Cassandra retired to her room. She was sitting at her dressing table when her lady’s maid, Meg, came in to help take down her hair and brush it out.

Meg set something down on the dresser. “This was found in the kitchen,” she said matter-of-factly. “Mrs. Church told me to bring it up to you.”

Cassandra blinked in surprise as she beheld the green leather cover of Around the World in Eighty Days. Realizing Mr. Severin had left it behind, she felt the cold weight of disappointment pressing down on her. It had been no accident, this rejection of her gift. He would not call on the family in London. There would be no discussions of books, or anything else.

He’d proposed marriage in the morning, and abandoned her by evening. What a frustrating, fickle man.

Slowly Cassandra opened the book and paged through it while the lady’s maid pulled the pins from her hair. Her gaze happened to fall upon a passage in which Phileas Fogg’s faithful valet, Passepartout, was reflecting on his master.

Phileas Fogg, though brave and gallant, must be … quite heartless.

Chapter 6


AFTER THREE MONTHS OF hard work and as many distractions as he’d been able to devise for himself, Tom still hadn’t been able to put Lady Cassandra Ravenel out of his mind. Memories of her kept catching at the edge of his consciousness, sparkling like a tenacious strand of Christmas tinsel stuck in the carpet.

He wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that Cassandra would have come down to the kitchen to visit him. Nor would he have wanted her to. He’d have chosen far different circumstances, somewhere with flowers and candlelight, or out on a garden terrace. And yet as they’d crouched together on a dirty floor, soldering boiler pipes in a room full of kitchen maids, Tom had been conscious of an unfolding sense of delight. She had been so clever and curious, with a sunny energy that had transfixed him.

Then had come that moment, when she’d said so artlessly, “I like you just as you are,” and he’d been shaken by his reaction.

From one moment to the next, Cassandra had gone from being an object of desire to a liability he couldn’t allow. She posed a danger to him, something new and strange, and he wanted none of it. No one could ever have that kind of power over him.

He was determined to forget her.

If only that were possible.

It didn’t help that he was friends with Rhys Winterborne, who was married to Cassandra’s sister Helen. Tom often met Winterborne for a quick lunch at one of the cook shops or chop houses between their respective offices. It was on one of these occasions that Winterborne revealed West Ravenel had just become engaged to marry Phoebe, Lady Clare, a young widow with two small sons, Justin and Stephen.

“I suspected he would,” Tom said, pleased by the revelation. “I went to Jenner’s Club with him the night before last, and she was all he wanted to talk about.”

“I heard about that,” Winterborne commented. “It seems you and Ravenel encountered a bit of trouble.”

Tom rolled his eyes. “Lady Clare’s former suitor came to the table with a pistol in hand. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds. He was soon disarmed and hauled off by a night porter.” He leaned back in his seat as the barmaid set plates of chilled crab salad and celery in front of them. “But before that happened, Ravenel was rambling on about Lady Clare, and how he wasn’t good enough for her because of his disreputable past, and how he was worried about setting a bad example for her children.”

Winterborne’s black eyes were keen with interest. “What did you say?”

Tom shrugged. “The match is to his advantage, and what else matters? Lady Clare is wealthy, beautiful, and the daughter of a duke. As for her sons … no matter what example you set, children insist on turning out how they will.” Tom took a swallow of ale before continuing. “Scruples always complicate a decision unnecessarily. They’re like those extra body parts none of us need.”

Winterborne paused in the act of lifting a forkful of dressed crab to his lips. “What extra body parts?”

“Things like the appendix. Male nipples. The external ears.”

“I need my ears.”

“Only the inner parts. The outer ear structure is superfluous in humans.”

Winterborne looked sardonic. “I need them to hold up my hat.”

Tom grinned and shrugged, conceding the point. “In any case, Ravenel has managed to win the hand of a fine woman. Good for him.”

They lifted their glasses and clinked them in a toast.

“Has a date been set for the wedding?” Tom asked.

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